That's certainly how the Glasgow Film Festival had pitched it and as the two writers and directors were introduced before the film it was once again described as a Mafia hitman film like no other we'd seen before, and described so with some gusto from the announcer. The premise sounded good and the promise was high.
The opening hits hard and fast and had me completely engaged. If you weren't sure that this was going to be a film about a man whose everyday job involves violence then you will be after these opening sequences. The action is presented in a fast, reactionary and realistic style, you can feel that this is how it would go down in real life but it isn't presented in a bloody or gory manner, there isn't time for the camera to linger, just to react, just as the character does. There's no feeling that the film is setting up moments for you, preparing them with quickly edited shots and spelling out all the elements. It does a great job of taking you into the events as he experiences them and from his perspective.
These scenes are filmed in an exciting and dramatic way with a style that grabs your attention. The camera is always behind our main character, keeping his face out of shot for quite some time and showing us little more than his eyes in close-up like a spaghetti western. It keeps this perspective through the action sequences and into the tense sequences in the house where the hitman finds the man he's after.
Once in the house we are treated to what seems like a very long single shot, following the hitman through the house as he glides from room to room avoiding the woman in the house and trying to find his intended victim. The way the camera and the characters flow through the rooms is like a dance between them and is another eye-catching moment of the film.
That opening action sequence is as well choreographed and filmed as the sequence in the house, but this is the only real action of the film as quite soon after this stylish opening the pace slows dramatically and the action ends. What we are left with is a much more considered and slowly paced film with plenty of silences and long moments of inaction, much more like the real life of a hitman I would assume.
While I normally decry films where there are long periods of silence and no real progression I did feel more connection to this film than others that have adopted this style. Films like this can be too minimalist and lose sight of story and character progression in favour of often pretentious and overly artsy long shots of staring. However there was a lot more on offer from Salvo and it wasn't a case of forgetting the story and favouring the shot.
One is the main character. He's rather interesting and there's enough of him on display to draw you closer. I would have liked to have had more exploration of him and his intentions, no need for some sprawling examination of his psyche and past but a little more into the character. There's a little to show that he's cold and calculating and doesn't care for just anyone, enjoying the solitude and silence more than humanity, the dog more than the guest house owners.
Yet the film is sadly lacking more of him and of his relationship with the leading lady. We do see more of her character than of his, but again it feels like there's not enough of her and her changing attitudes. At the core of the film is their relationship and how he changes through meeting her, but there isn't enough of this on screen and it feels as though we are standing just outside watching events rather than being even the tiniest part involved in them.
The cinematography was another aspect of the film that kept me with it for there are some wonderfully shot moments outside of the very strong opening sequences. The use of the camera, of the locations, of lighting and of sound were all aspects of the film that kept me interested.
The sound seemed particularly well thought through as this is the way that the female character engages and connects with the world, and it wasn't until the end that I completely understood the lack of a score apart from the one theme. The way that they filmed the partial sightedness of the female character was very clever and I was surprised to learn that the actress was not actually partially sighted herself. Some of the sequences of seeing through her eyes or how she interacts with the people and the world around her was intriguing to watch and a huge positive for the filmmakers.
The ending of the film did seem to promise a lot but like the rest it took its own time and played out in a quiet and calm fashion. Before we arrive at the ultimate ending between the two leading characters there is another action sequence that suggests we're about to see the excitement and style return from the first, however there was somewhat of a disappointment as it happens all off camera. That really did hit me because I'd been waiting for something more to happen and for the directors to once again show the different style that they brought to such a well visited sequence.
Ultimately though the ending does fade away gently and while it fits with the characters and their relationship to this point it does reflect the fact that little has happened and the emotional connection with the audience is somewhat lacking.
Salvo does have plenty of style to offer particularly in the opening sequences. There are some strong aspects to the film from the cinematography, lighting and sound, however the pace and progression of the story for the most part let the film down. I'm sure more concentration on the development of the two leads and their relationship could attract a wider audience to the film, as it is I do feel that it is a little too slow and silent for the film I was hoping for.
- It was very difficult to get funding for the feature.
- They had to film a short to begin with to prove to the producers that they could make a feature as they had never directed before.
- The short film is called Rita and is about a blind girl. They wanted to use this character to work on filming a blind character and from their perspective to experiment before they got to the feature.
- The opening scene of the film is a homage to samurai films, as is the character himself.
- There are influences from spaghetti westerns to samurai films and even film noir - "noir under the sun like Chinatown" was a comment from one of the pair.
- The actress spent time living with a blind girl and wearing a blindfold to understand the character. She was even rehearsing blindfolded wore blind contact lenses during some of the scenes to make it much more authentic.
- One of the pair said that the name Salvo means "I save" as well as "I'm saved" - I wasn't exactly sure if that is exactly what he said for the second phrase, it might have been "I'd saved". Looking up Google Translate it states "save" and "saving".
- They were very vocal about social problems in Sicily when asked about the Mafia and their prevalence these days. They responded saying that the problem is not the Mafia as they live by a moral code and have a mission that they stick to, the problem is really the society who have let the land fall apart - represented by the couple looking after the hitman - that's where they feel the rage not so much for the organised criminals.
- Next for the duo is a dark fairy tale, ghost story, and they wouldn't say much more than that.